Review: Bimba Devi hewath Yashodara


Prof Sunil Ariyaratne has cleverly, with great intelligence and care made a beautiful film on the life of Yashodara, wife of Prince Siddhartha Gautama in their last life and many more previously in samsara. She expressed within herself the intention to be the spouse of the man who she was beside when awaiting the arrival of Deepankara Buddha, very early in the film. The man expressed the intention to be a future Buddha. Deepankara Buddha pronounced both aspirations would be fulfilled.

Technique of narrative

Prof Sunil Ariyaratne’s film is on Yashodara, but of course intertwined with that of Siddhartha Gautama, later The Buddha. Hence much of the narrative revolves around him.

The method of unraveling her story from birth to parinibbana is arrestingly interesting and intellectual. It is not a linear/chronological narration. Rather is the story unraveled as Yashodara’s recollections as she walks many miles with her retinue of bhikkunis to where the Buddha is residing at Veluwana to ask his permission to die, now that she is old and feeble. The film goes back several times to the walk of the brown clad bhikkhunis and sevikas in white, holding reed parasols as the voice of Yashodara recollects incidents in her life. At the end her voice records her arrival at Buddha’s abode. Then the leader of the chorus, an itinerant gypsy like figure narrates in song that Yashodara, now an arahant, reached Nibbana and the Buddha was present as she died and personally attended to funeral rites and the building of a stupa over her remains – in gratitude for her life of understanding companionship to him. Thus ends the film with a view of the ashen nun laid out on a bier being shed over with lotus petals.

The second noteworthy, praise-able and excellent technique is the commissioning of a pothé gura of sorts who is very much seen in the film at intervals with his musical instrument, dressed in fancy clothing and beads. He sings of the incidents that are taking place like the birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama and his marriage to Yashodara; and other important events in the lives of the two. He sings stanzas. A chorus of voices is also included, the chorus not seen. They express Yashodara’s thoughts in song and a single voice poignantly expresses her sorrow when Siddhartha leaves the palace for good, and other emotional instances.


The language the characters speak in is wonderful, classical and much more dignified than ordinary speech. Thus language matches the regality of the characters who are mostly of royal lineage. The subtitles in English appearing almost at the bottom of the screen are accurate and precise. One listens in wonder as Yashodara chants her sorrow once she sees that the Prince has left her and her son forever.



The entire film runs true to the life of the Buddha as recorded in the Buddhist Canon. It is a narrative beginning eons ago and dealing in detail with the life of Siddhartha Gautama and Yashodara with all important incidents shown. Here again one marvels at the excellence of the script writer and director – Prof Sunil Ariyaratne – for encapsulating all in a film of just over two hours. A couple of important events/scenes that would have needed many persons and sets are obviated by the pothé gura singing of them, once in a raft with many persons aboard. But certain truths came across to me at least, vividly. The fact that Yashodara knew Siddhartha would renounce royal life and leave her and their new born son are emphasized in the film. So also her brother Devadattha’s continued treachery towards Siddhartha even after he became the Buddha. The struggle of the prince to realize the truth is shown dramatically with black figures dancing menacingly and nature in turmoil as the ascetic, Siddhartha, sat at the foot of a massive bo tree. Soon after comes the scene of lovely Sujatha appearing in a misty morning to offer alms to the figure seated under a tree whom her maid insisted vehemently was the tree god descended to receive her dané.

A difference to what we had believed or imagined so far was Siddhartha’s first glimpses of the sights that propelled him to go forth in search of the Truth of Life. We had imagined and previous films of his life had shown him seeing an old person, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. In this film, Siddhartha on his faithful horse Kantaka with Channa in attendance, enters a colony of aged persons; into another of those suffering diseases, one of whom he actually converses with – a princess who was proposed in marriage to him. Then he sees a funeral procession. Thus the director emphasized the impact of these strange-to-him sights. In an earlier scene King Suddhodana orders that every old and sick person be removed to dwellings outside the city walls. Thus the authenticity conveyed that the four sights were totally accidental, and consequently accounted for the prince rejecting his kingship.


To be unreservedly praised is the manner of depicting emotional scenes. Tears in women in the audience flowed, but the director had the scenes moving naturally and realistically with no attempt at all to evoke tears. So many scenes were highly emotional and sad, but they were shown to be elevated to higher planes. The departing of the prince forever from the palace; his giving of crown and jewellery to Channa and chopping off his hair; the tears shed by Yashodara as he came to her palace as Buddha when she laid her face on his feet and he said: let her cry; and her death were particularly very sad.

Two symbols merged seamlessly into the narrative and film, with absolutely no jarring obviousness. When Siddhartha resolves for himself the truth of samsaric life and realizes the four noble truths and propounds the noble eightfold path at early dawn, Yashodara is awakened by the inclement weather outside. She emerges outdoors and then follows a leaf that has entered her chamber. It is a big bo leaf that settles down on a table. She is overjoyed as she perceives her husband has gained enlightenment. The bo leaf was symbolic also of her deep connection to her husband, nurtured through many lives together, so she was spiritually one with him and knew his search had ended.

The other symbolic depiction was her praise of the returned Siddhartha now as Buddha. She had maintained he would return, when Suddhodana and Devadatta persuaded her to make another marriage. She told her son that his father would return and when he did, in robes, with a retinue of monks to Kapilawastu, she looks out her window with the little prince and points out his father, now as she says, grown better looking in features and form and so serene. The boy fails to recognize him, so she paints a picture all the while chanting the Buddha’s praises.

Another unique achievement was the depiction of the story as a love story. The scenes where Siddhartha and Yashodara are together as a newly married couple on a house boat and in the palace are delightfully charming; all praise to handsome Arpit Choudhary and beautiful Pallavi Subhash who played their roles to perfection. The choice of Indian stars for the two main roles as did Navin Goonaratne in his film Sri Siddhartha Gautama, is wise.

That film too was excellent but the two films are not similar. Here in Yashodara the film is about her life and thus the life of Siddhartha Gautama from a previous life to birth in 6th century Kapilavastu and attaining enlightenment and moving to parinibbana. Navin Goonaratne ended his film with the attainment of enlightenment by Siddhartha.

Bimba Devi hewath Yashodara is directed and much else by Prof Sunil Ariyaratne and produced and released by H D Premasiri. Excellent background music and singing is by Rohana Weerasinghe. Cameraman Channa Deshapriya deserves much praise too, as also our own stars who play roles in the film.

Nanda Pethiyagoda

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